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It’s that time of year when a bit of over-indulgence may tip you over the edge. Listen up people! Forget New Year’s resolutions of abstemious diets. What fun is that? Think of me as your post-Christmas fairy godmother and let me introduce you to the wonders of fennel tea.Not uber-exciting at first glance, I grant you but

  1. it’s good for you
  2.  it works
  3. it’s very pretty growing in the garden AND
  4. it avoids the angst of having failed by January 7th.in your calorie- counting resolutions………………… What’s not to love?

To make fennel tea take a teaspoon of seeds (gathered and dried earlier in the year or shop-bought) and pour on boiling water. Let it brew for 5 minutes, strain and drink. It aids digestion, prevents heartburn and constipation and will help with that post- festive  ‘no more food and drink ever’ feeling. It’s an acquired taste. (I never drink it but not everyone is blessed with female Celtic ancestry and consequently the constitution of an ox.) 

But that’s not all. Fennel tea is also good for tired eyes, and skin that needs a bit of a boost. Use it as a facial steam bath (seeds and leaves), mix with honey to make a facepack or make a cold compress and bathe the eyes.  Apparently the facemask is great for wrinkles too – if you worry about such things.

I’m a big fan of common fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and of her more attractive bronze sister (Purpureum)  but less enomoured of Florence. To be frank we never grow it as none of us really like the taste. It’s easy to grow in sunny, well-drained, fertile soil. If you garden on clay – like me  -then it will be happier if you mix in some sharp sand. Pick the flower heads in Summer to maintain a steady supply of leaves and cut back old growth in the Winter, when it will die back. It only needs protection in really cold conditions and can be sown in Autumn in a heated greenhouse for use in Winter salads.

I grow it at home mainly for flower arranging and as a companion plant as it attracts hoverflies and therefore is great at keeping aphids at bay. But it’s also a must in the  gardens I design for schools and nurseries – particularly snacking and sipping gardens or Roman herb gardens. Children can munch on the seeds and try to identify the taste. Some love it – others don’t but they’ll all want to try.The Romans were very keen on fennel and used it in salads, bread or cakes. Roman  gladiators took it for good health and strong constitutions. They even wore wreaths made from fennel and Roman ladies chewed the seeds to prevent becoming fat as it staves off pangs of hunger. Presumably this is why it was also eaten by American puritans during over-long sermons in church. 

So if you are in the habit of making New Year’s resolutions plan to grow some fennel in your garden this year – even if you won’t be drinking fennel tea.